Acceptance of Homosexuality in Different Ancient Civilizations
Homosexuality refers to the attraction between two people of the same sex. Homosexuality dates back to even the earliest civilizations, although homosexuality was different than what we refer to as homosexuality in modern society. Every culture differed and although there is proof of homosexual activity in many ancient societies, a term that translates to roughly the meaning of “homosexual” did not exist. Despite this, there have been references to homosexuality in in most civilizations throughout history, and depending on the civilization, the acceptance of homosexuality has differed.
In ancient Egypt, a civilization that lasted roughly 550 years, had two differing opinions on homosexuality. When talking about intercourse, homosexuality was not looked upon in a flattering manner. According to a comparative essay on homosexuality in Egyptian, Greek, and Roman societies, “Homosexuality [was] a social manifestation of the personal power of a citizen over slaves… This mentality opened the door to using homosexuality as a form of punishment…” (Price 20). The quote displays the idea that the Egyptians had about homosexuality, which was that those who took the submissive role in homosexual intercourse were “feminine” and “baser than a slave” (Price 20). Due to the degrading nature of being the bottom in homosexual intercourse, it was a punishment for criminals and captured enemies. Although homosexuality had a bad reputation in Egyptian culture, “Works of art and Egyptian text display the openness of ancient Egyptian sexuality” (Price 22). Many texts from the time tell the stories of gods and goddesses engaging in homosexual behavior. This fact suggests that some forms of homosexuality were not accepted but others were not.
Ancient China was an ancient civilization that lasted around 2000 years. Ancient China had a more positive view on homosexuality, especially compared to modern China. A paper from Fordham University states, “Early western observers, such as the Jesuit Matthew Ricci long noted the acceptance of homosexuality in China, but could do little to change it” (Hinsch). This shows how accepting the people of ancient China were about homosexuality. The quote also implies that the early western observers tried to change the ancient Chinese people’s views on homosexuality but failed because homosexuality was ingrained in their culture.
According to the same paper, “…for two centuries at the height of the Han, China was ruled by ten openly bisexual emperors. The names of the emperors, with their acknowledge favorites were recorded in the official histories of the period by Sima Qian and Ban Gu” (Hinsch). This quote further displays the acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality that the people of ancient China had. In ancient China, being an emperor who displayed homosexual behavior was not dethroned or treated differently than their heterosexual counterparts. In ancient China, homosexuality was widely accepted and was part of the norm.
The ancient Greek civilization lasted around 350 years, and had similar views to Egypt. Similar to the ancient Egyptians, same-sex relationships between two free men was looked down on. It was perceived that the submissive or passive role was only meant for women or slave men. Despite this fact, the ancient Greeks were accepting of homosexuality. According to a paper from Stanford University, “Probably the most frequent assumption of sexual orientation is that persons can respond erotically to beauty in either sex… furthermore, the issue of what gender one is attracted to is seen as an issue of taste or preference, rather than as a moral issue… Gender just becomes irrelevant “detail” and instead the excellence in character and beauty is what is most important” (Pickett).
This conveys the point that the Greeks were open to homosexuality and that gender did not matter when it came to romantic and sexual relationships. To the people of ancient Greece, what mattered was their character and appearance. In the same paper, it is stated that “Greek gods, such as Zeus, had stories of same-sex exploits attributed to them, as did other key figures in Greek myth and literature, such as Achilles and Hercules” (Pickett). Similar to ancient China, many worshiped and important figures in Greek society showed homosexual and bisexual behavior. For example, Achilles, one of the great heroes of myths, had an implied homosexual relationship with one of his closest friends, Patroclus. They had a closer relationship than strictly platonic friends would have. Although there were some negative connotations of homosexuality, ancient Greece was highly accepting of homosexuality.
Ancient Rome was the civilization that followed ancient Greece, lasting 1480 years. According to Stanford University, “…under the Empire, Roman society slowly became more negative in its views towards sexuality, probably due to social and economic turmoil, even before Christianity became influential” (Pickett). Out of the civilizations that predate Rome, ancient Rome probably had the most negative views on homosexuality. As Christianity spread across ancient Rome, the already negative views on homosexuality progressively got worse.“Soon this attitude, especially towards homosexual sex, came to be reflected in Roman Law. In Justinian’s Code, promulgated in 529, persons who engaged in homosexual sex were to be executed, although those who were repentant could be spared” (Pickett). As Christianity took over ancient Rome, homosexuals were persecuted, executed, and forced to turn to heterosexuality to prevent being killed. Because of the prevalence of Christianity during the reign of the Roman Empire, its views on homosexuality were harsh.
Vikings refer to Scandinavian, or Norse, seafarers and the Viking Age lasted for more than 300 years. Much like the Greeks and Egyptians, the Vikings valued masculinity. Being the bottom role in a homosexual relationship was seen as though the male was allowing their partner to think for them. This was a problem because the vikings valued leadership and self-reliance. It was said that the submissive role in a homosexual relationship was “…equated with cowardice” (Hallakarva). Putting this issue aside, “Homosexuality was not regarded by the Viking peoples as being evil, perverted, innately against the laws of nature or any of the other baggage about the concept that Christian belief has provided Western culture” (Hallakarva). This quote conveys the viking peoples’ opinion of homosexuality, which was that homosexuality was natural and not wrong.
Every civilization and society have different standards and points of view on different subjects, homosexuality being one that many societies differ greatly on. In ancient times, many civilizations had a positive view on homosexuality, the popularization of Christianity spreading negative views on homosexuality. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Vikings shared similar views on the submissive role in a homosexual relationship, which was seen as bad. Seeing the different reactions to the same topic makes one think of how one’s environment changes how one thinks.